Title: New World
Genre(s): Crime, Thriller, Drama
Director(s): Park Hoon-jung
Release Year: 2013
Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung, New World is Korea’s latest entry in the Crime Drama film. The title may fool you though as nothing about this gangster film feels exciting or new, instead rehashing several of the classic elements of a gangster film into a pleasant-looking package with little to tell. It is a movie that wants to provide a significant meaning, but what it really excels at is delivering intense action, amid a stylish and well-put together narrative. Rather than follow the generic Western idea of our protagonist doing what is morally just, our lead is thrust into what makes the most sense based on his tribulations. New World is not entertaining, so much as it is an interesting analysis of one character forced into the underbelly of a ruthless crime syndicate.
Crime is on the rise and the two head gang members of Goldmoon, a crime syndicate, are vying for the position of chairman of the company after the death of the previous head of the organization. The narrative unwinds in four different perspectives, from the two gang leaders, Ja-sung (Lee Jung-Jae), and Chief Detective Kang (Choi Min-Sik), though the film’s primary focus is on Ja-sung, the right-hand man of Jung Chang (Hwang Jung-Min who hams it up in this film), and an undercover cop. Having been undercover for 8 years now, he is seeking a way out, but Detective Kang has other plans in mind. As Jung Chang attempts to knock away the competition, Ja-sung becomes neck-deep in the world he is trying to escape from, as his relationship with the law is tested by Kang.
There are a plethora of plot twists that feel more like Park was throwing everything at the film to see what sticks, and ultimately, only a few plot twists end up being really effective, with a lot of them feeling very flat. Each plot twist feels more and more predictable, and others feel absolutely unnecessary, including the ones leading up to the final reveal of the film. But I suppose in a 134 minute film, plot twists are a welcome addition to the slow-moving pace of New World. There’s so much backstabbing, and conspiracy going on that it almost becomes laughable, but the film manages to retain a stylish aesthetic that holds it above films like last year’s Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time. As with that film, New World feels especially preoccupied with showing how power corrupts, and displaying the government in a unflattering light.
It really is very unfortunate that the point of the film feels ultimately mute, because there are a lot of elements to be praised in the movie. For one, the acting is top-notch, with Hwang Jun-Min really standing out as the unhinged gang leader vying for control of Goldmoon by whatever means possible. And his character gets to be one of the more active characters when it comes to the over-the-top violence that New World portrays, though not as often as the introduction to the film would make you think. The frantic action scenes are bolstered by the incredible talents of Chung Chung-hoon, who brings some of his stylish cinematography from films like Oldboy and his recent North American debut, Stoker to memorably visceral sequences like an elevator scene that feels reminiscent of the hallway scene from Oldboy. Unfortunately, as I said, these action scenes are very sparse, with only a handful of them in an otherwise narrative-heavy crime drama.
That is the biggest shame with New World: a completely well-rounded cast is wasted on what could have been a very good character study of how one can be led to a life of crime. There are a lot of themes stuffed into the film that don’t ever really feel fully fleshed out, but the actors and overall aesthetic of the film makes up for it slightly. Then there’s the incredible chemistry between the characters of Jung Chang and Ja-sung, who the audience can truly get behind as their bond is both strained and strengthened, ultimately shaping Ja-sung’s character. But with an excessively long runtime, New World is an example of a crime drama more dependent on being smart, than being substantial, with more plot-twists and reveals than the film can bear. The movie is just barely above average because of the technical aspects of it, however, its narrative slogs too much to be able to justify seeing it over other crime dramas that do everything New World does, but much, much better.